Democrats are seizing on the Pentagon's decision to extend troops' combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence President Bush's war policy is failing.
The announcement "just underscores the fact that the burden of the war in Iraq has fallen upon our troops and their families," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "The Bush administration has failed to create a plan to fully equip and train our troops, bring them home safely and soon, and provide our veterans with the quality care they deserve."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday the Army would keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for 15-month tours instead of the yearlong stints that have become standard. The three-month extension will allow the Pentagon to maintain its 30,000-troop buildup in Baghdad for another year.
"Once again the failures of this administration are being underwritten by our troops," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Presidential meeting pending
Democrats' criticism of the troop extension comes at the same time they are trying to build political momentum behind their proposal in Congress to set an end date on the war.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Pelosi said Wednesday they have agreed to meet with Bush next week to discuss the Iraq war, but will insist that it be a two-way discussion.
Bush has promised to veto the Democrats' proposal to withdraw troops, despite it being attached to $96 billion in military funding needed to finance combat operations through September. Republicans have promised to back the president, leaving Democrats short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.
Bush told reporters April 3 that the funding delay would mean troops may have to stay in Iraq longer than planned.
"That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people," he said.
The three-month extension on trop deployments is seen as necessary to sustain Bush's plan to boost security around Baghdad. Troop levels are being boosted from 15 brigades to 20 brigades, and to keep that up beyond summer the Army faced harsh choices: either send units to Iraq with less than 12 months at home, or extend tours.
A feeling it would happen
Service members and their families said they weren't surprised at the announcement to extend tours.
"Everyone that is there (in Iraq) has in the back of their mind that they could be there longer than they expect. They are prepared," said Maj. Bruce Williams, who returned this fall from his first deployment to Iraq. Williams, 37, is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Stephanie Carrao, whose husband has been serving in Iraq since October, said he had a feeling it would happen.
"I'm a military brat so I kind of always prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Carrao, whose husband, Maj. Nicholas Carrao, is in Iraq with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Bliss, Texas.
"Our forces are stretched, there's no question about that," Gates said. But Republicans and top military officials said the troops could handle it.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, "believes the troops are up to the task and committed to the cause," said Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the minority leader. "The more disconcerting issue facing American troops is the Democrats' refusal to fund them without undermining their mission and their safety at the same time."